political candidates on the air

The Supreme Court issued its landmark opinion in Citizens United v. FEC one year ago today.  That case allowed corporations and labor unions to make independent expenditures for or against political candidates.  An editorial in today’s Washington Post by the President of Citizens United and its lead counsel argues that the hysteria following that decision was unfounded because the amount spent by citizen groups in the last election paled in comparison to the amount spent by the Democratic and Republican parties and by the candidates themselves.  Rather, the authors argue, the primary political speech to come out of the Supreme Court’s decision has been that of independents, and politicians are upset by this because they cannot control the speech of independents.

 As a reminder, the Supreme Court case arose as a result of a film directed against then Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.  Citizens United was a nonprofit corporation that produced the film, and there was debate whether this was a "documentary" or an "electioneering communication," as well as whether distribution via video on demand constituted "public distribution" of the film.  The Supreme Court found that the film was indeed an "electioneering communication" and that VOD was likewise a public distribution of the film.  Thus, Citizens United ran smack up against the FEC prohibition on independent corporate political expenditures.


Continue Reading “Citizens United”: The Supreme Court Decision One Year Later

The New York Times just ran an article on the number of radio and television commentators who are also potential political candidates, speculating on whether the appearance of these candidates on TV and cable talk shows, and on radio programs, give them an advantage in their future political careers.  That perceived TV bump might be most in the news in the potential candidacy of Harold Ford in the Democratic Senate primary in New York, with his appearances on MSNBC (and this past weekend on Meet the Press on NBC, where he was part of a panel to talk about the week’s news, and was then asked about his future political plans).  But it is also evident in the almost daily parade of potential candidates on radio, TV and cable talk programs.  So, one might ask, what are the FCC implications of these appearances?

The week before last, we wrote on this question, in connection with on-air radio or TV performers who actually become candidates, and how a broadcast station should deal with those candidates and the equal opportunities obligations to opposing candidates that arise when these employee-candidates appear on the air.  But the question of when the equal opportunities obligations arise is one that we only touched on.  Under the FCC’s interpretation of the Section 315 of the Communications Act, the equal opportunities obligations arise once you have a legally qualified candidate – one who fulfills all of the obligations that a state imposes for securing a place on the ballot.  Usually, this involves the filing of certain papers, often with petitions signed by a specified number of registered voters, with a state’s Secretary of State by a given deadline.  Once the requirements established by the state have been met, the candidate is legally qualified and equal opportunities attach to any on air appearances outside the context of an exempt program (see our post here about those appearances, principally in news and interview programs, which are exempt from equal opportunities). 


Continue Reading When Potential Candidates Like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Harold Ford Are On Radio, TV and Cable – FCC Issues?